O’Ree to lead All-Star community efforts

Willie O’Ree, who in 1958 became the first black player to skate in the National Hockey League, will be at the forefront of community events surrounding the 2004 Pepsi AHL All-Star Classic, which will be held Feb. 8-9 at Van Andel Arena.

O’Ree, who played in 45 NHL games and 56 AHL contests during a distinguished 20-year career, will visit Grand Rapids for three days to participate in a variety of activities involving the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation, local schools, hospitals and charities. In addition, O’Ree will serve as keynote speaker for the “Diversity in Business and Sports Symposium,” a luncheon sponsored by the Griffins Youth Foundation and Warner Norcross & Judd LLP at the University Club on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

All-Star activities will kick into high gear on Friday, Feb. 6 at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, with a unique Public Skills Competition modeled after the AHL All-Star Skills Competition. Fans can test their talents in four events – fastest skater, hardest shot, puck handling, and target shooting – from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

During the Public Skills Competition at Rosa Parks Circle and the AHL All-Star Classic at Van Andel Arena, volunteers will wear special jerseys from each of the AHL’s 28 franchises, as well as the PlanetUSA and Canadian AHL All-Star Teams. Each one-of-a-kind commemorative jersey, which features the name “GRAND RAPIDS” and the numerals “04” on the back, will be autographed by that particular team’s All-Star representatives, while the two AHL All-Star sweaters will be signed by all 24 players from the respective team.

All 30 jerseys will be available for bidding through an eBay auction that begins at noon on Saturday, Feb. 7 and continues for 10 days, with all proceeds benefiting the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Fans can link to the auction through griffinshockey.com.

The final major All-Star community event will take place on Monday, Jan. 9, the morning of the AHL All-Star Game. From 10-11 a.m., dozens of AHL All-Star players and several team mascots will visit patients in five Grand Rapids hospitals: DeVos Children’s Hospital, Spectrum Hospital-Blodgett Campus, Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center, Mary Free Bed Hospital and Metropolitan Hospital.

As part of its long-standing commitment to the AHL and in honor of Grand Rapids’ staging of the 2004 Pepsi AHL All-Star Classic, Franklin Sporting Goods will donate $7,500 worth of equipment to the Griffins Youth Foundation. Since 1995, the Foundation has worked to expand the opportunities for participation in ice-skating and related sports and activities, and to encourage academic excellence, community involvement and healthy lifestyles among the youth of West Michigan.